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AHR Expo: What You Need to Know About HFC Refrigerants

Jan. 15, 2019

States are taking up the mantle of the global HFC refrigerant phasedown in light of a lawsuit against the EPA for trying to ban the substances. Here’s how these developments affect you.

States are taking up the mantle of the global HFC refrigerant phasedown now that a lawsuit has stopped the EPA from enforcing its ban on them. Here’s how the phasedown could affect facilities professionals.

Why Are HFCs Banned?

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a class of refrigerants that contribute to global warming, but don’t harm the ozone layer. The EPA moved to phase out HFCs in 2016 because they trap heat in the atmosphere.

Two manufacturers then sued the agency, claiming that it overstepped its statutory authority in enacting the ban and saying that the decision to ban HFCs was arbitrary. The court disagreed with the latter claim. But it did agree the EPA overstepped its bounds because the rule under which it banned HFCs was originally enacted to address substances that deplete the ozone layer.

The court suggested Congress pass legislation to address refrigerants that have high global warming potential but aren’t ozone-depleting. Until such a law is passed, however, the HFC ban no longer exists at a federal level.


Want to listen to the podcast instead?

Christoph Trappe speaks with Mark Menzer, director of public affairs with Danfoss, about what facility managers and building owners should know about the evolving HFC refrigerant phase out and what you can do to move forward. 


Listen here or read the full transcript at the bottom of this article.

The States Step In

With a federal ban dead in the water, California has taken the lead in banning refrigerants at a state level, explains Mark Menzer, director of public affairs for Danfoss. New York, Maryland and New Jersey have also announced plans to join California in banning HFCs, Menzer adds.

“We expect by the end of 2019 to have a dozen states that are doing so,” Menzer says. “These are large states that represent 40 percent of the U.S. population, so they’re not to be ignored. These rules are going to be important.”

Impact on Facilities Management

The possibility of having 50 slightly different regulations on refrigerants is a concern for manufacturers, and facilities managers whose portfolios cross state lines should also be concerned.

You can mitigate the potential impact on your portfolio by investing in refrigerants with low global warming potential.

“As you’re getting ready to repair or replace systems, be aware of what’s going on with new technologies and new refrigerants,” advises Menzer. “Even if the new refrigerant is not mandated this year, you can bet that some of the old refrigerants aren’t going to be around forever. If you have a system that has a 20-year life, you want to think about what refrigerants will be available over that 20 years. Stay close to what the refrigerant rules are and use an installer and technician who are also aware of the upcoming rule changes.”

Read the full transcript here:

Christoph: Hello, everyone. Christoph Trappe here, chief content engagement director with BUILDINGS.com. And we’re still at the AHR Expo. And today I’m joined by Mark Menzer. He’s the director of public affairs with Danfoss, where they just had their 24th annual press conference. A lot of interesting material that was shared.

And one of the things we talked about is the political situation, how it affects the facility managers, building owners and HRC Phase Down. So, let’s jump right in, Mark.

Mark: Yeah. Thanks, Christoph. So, I know the building owners have been aware that we have been talking about global warming and global warming emissions and how we gotta get out of the high global warming refrigerants. And so, we’re part of a worldwide phase down of high GWP refrigerants as we call them.

Now, it’s taken a bit of a turn in the United States because the EPA, who was leading this phase down, was told by the courts that they didn’t have certain authorities. And so, now they’ve gotta go back and look at what authority they do have to lead an HFC or a high global warming refrigerant phase down in the United States.

So, meanwhile, while they’re doing that and while the Trump administration is trying to figure out if it has a role at all, some of the states have jumped in. And the states are not pre-empted from doing what they want to do in this area.

So, as usual, California has taken the lead. And California has adopted what were some of the federal rules about phasing out of high GWP refrigerants, so we’re talking about a class of refrigerants called HFCs.

And phasing out of those in the next few years, particularly for refrigeration systems. And then beyond that for air conditioning systems as well.

And not only is California doing it, but other states are starting to get on the bandwagon as well. New York, Maryland, New Jersey have already announced plans.

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We expect by the end of 2019 to have maybe a dozen states that are doing so. And these are large states. These are states that represent 40 percent of the US population for 40 percent of the US business. So, they’re not to be ignored and these rules are going to be important.

Christoph: You know, of course, as Americans, we’re always competitive. And one of the things that really struck me in your presentation was you said something about half a million jobs are potentially on the line.

Mark: Yeah. The United States has always been the world leader in coming up with new air conditioning and refrigeration technology. Although, in recent years, there’s been more competition from elsewhere.

If the US doesn’t have sustained federal leadership in reducing these global warming refrigerants, then the center of technology development is just going to move elsewhere. It’s going to move to China and other places. China’s going to point to the United States as not having a real leadership role in moving away from these greenhouse gasses. And they’re going to start supplying the rest of the world.

And of course, most of the action and most of the new buildings are in the rest of the world. China’s going to take that lead and supply technology. And that’s going to have repercussions for manufacturers and others here in the United States and a ripple down affect.

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So, we think half a million jobs could be at stake in the long term.

Christoph: That’s really unfortunate. A good sign of our system though that the states are stepping in and doing some things.

Mark: Yeah, that’s right. Now, on the other hand, we’re worried about having 50 different sets of refrigerant regulations and nobody, building owners in multiple states don’t want to see that either.

We’re working closely with the other states that have already announced, trying to make sure that their programs are identical too, or be at least very close to California’s program. And we will continue doing that. Believe me, we don’t want to sell 50 different sets of products either.

Christoph: And there’s a real good chance that would happen if just the states do it. We’ve seen that with other legislations, of course.

On a very practical level for building owners and facility managers, how will it affect them on a day-to-day or more tactical level?

Mark: Yeah. Well, so I would say that as you’re getting ready to repair, replace systems, you should certainly be aware of what’s going on with new technologies and new refrigerants.

Even if the new refrigerant is not mandated this year, you can bet that some of the old refrigerants are not going to be around forever.

If you’re going to have a system that’s going to have a 20-year life, you want to think about what refrigerants are going to be available over those 20 years.

I would say stay very close to what the refrigerant rules are and use a installer and a technician that’s also quite aware of the upcoming refrigeration rule changes.

Christoph: Great. Thanks again for listening everyone. Another episode of the BUILDINGS Podcast. I was joined by Mark Menzer, director of public affairs at Danfoss. And certainly, they have their 24th annual press conference today at AHR. We’ll link to some of the additional content that was shared here today.

Thanks again, Mark.

Mark: Very good. Thank you.

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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